Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Friends and Family event for Cart Lab, Portland’s newest dining hall near the Tom McCall Waterfront Park area. It coincided with their soft opening to the public, which is like a dress rehearsal for restaurants.
This is a time that no media or food critic should attend, unless they can keep from writing. When I worked at an alt weekly publication similar to the Willamette Week, I practically begged our food critics to stay out of my clients’ new restaurants for the first month until they firmly established themselves. They didn’t always abide, and there was the time the editor titled my client’s food as Farm to Terrible. Thanks again, Lindsay.
But the five food carts and Gelato Maestro were all working quite harmoniously together. What they have going for them is the sheer magnetism of Bo Kwon working the food hall with his personality, passion, and soul. When I moved to Portland two years ago, my friend John said that Portland had no soul. I wasn’t sure what he meant, until I hung out at Cart Lab. Here is where the soul can be found, my man.
“You’re a food blogger?” Bo asked as he gave us the tour. I’m getting better at owning up to them because some really cool people started following me recently. He informed us that he regrets the time spent away from his young babies, but I assure him that his success will only ensure their greater future.
Pretty neon signs decorate the exterior of Cart Lab, and the entrance is adorned by all the attractive logos. While you stand in line contemplating your order, you have beautiful artwork to admire as well.
We sampled the Spicy Korean Fried Chicken from Fomo Chicken, which I would put on my Top 5 of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, if Food Network wanted to know. I will be having that again very, very soon. Next time I want double the pickled radish, though.
We loved the Lobster B-ritto from Wasabi Sushi, and enjoyed talking with the owner about his business. We noshed on the Cartlab Asada Nachos from Tight Tacos, and nobody has to tell them to tighten up. We enjoyed the house white and red wine that they’ll have on tap, once the liquor license is ready. (Last night was a private party in the bar where guests had wrist bands and restrictions.) Thanks to my friend Madeline of Up Close with Madi for making me her plus one at this event!
We already knew that we loved Koi Fusion and PDX Sliders, so it was all our pleasure to have the opportunity to try the newer dishes in the dining hall. Great meeting Bo and Ryan, loved chatting in Italian with the owner of Gelato Maestro, loved the tiramisu, and yes Gianna is a beautiful name for a daughter and we agree that Gallo Nero is one of the best Italian restaurants in Portland.
I had such a fun night, Cart Lab. Thanks for the inspiration!